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In this play in which, as one critic writes, "Plato meets Groucho Marx," when faced with evil or danger, the family unites. The maid Serena in the first scenes later poses as Miss Fairweather in a scene from Act III as the Antrobus family survives disaster, attends a convention, and spends the afternoon on the boardwalk. She talks with a co-worker:
SABRINA. I'll take President Antrobus away from his wife. Then I'll take every man away from his wife. I'll turn the whole earth upside down
FORTUNE TELLER. It’s you who won’t get a place in the boat (before the Biblical flood). Again there'll be the narrow escape. The survival of a handful. From destruction —total destruction
It is, in fact, always Mrs. Antrobus, living for her children, who holds together the family. Several times Mr. Antrobus tells her to send Henry away, but his mother cannot bring herself to exile him from their family despite his evil. Because of his slaying of his brother, Mr. Antrobus says, "All of us are covered in blood," but Mrs. Antrobus insists he remember the times when Henry made him proud. (As one critic suggests, Thorton Wilder's drama suggests that "we cast out the mote from our own eyes.")
Nevertheless, Mrs. Antrobus scolds Henry frequently and warns him,
Put your slingshot in your pocket, and don't try to take hold of things that don't belong to you.
In addition, before the flood Mrs. Antrobus tells her son and daughter: "Now, children, you have ten minutes to walk around. Ten minutes. And, she orders Henry to control himself. "Gladys, stick by your brother and don't let him go near the water." Later, Mrs. Antrobus admits that theirs is not the perfect family, and they are not
...what books and plays say we are. We're ourseves. If any man hams our soul; he'll be at the bottom of the ocean.
But, she demands,
What's the matter with a family, I'd like to know. What else have they got to offer?
When Mr. Antrobus reaches a mid-life crisis and tells his wife that he is leaving her, she reminds him of his commitment: "We made a promise." And it is this promise that has held them together. She continues,
And when our children were growing up, it wasn't a house that protected them; and it wasn't our love, that protected them —it was that promise. And when that promise is broken —this can happen! [an affair]
It is the struggle together which becomes so meaningful. Even little Gladys at the end declares, "Everybody's at their best in wartime." The Antrobus family survives the Ice Age, the flood, and world wars.
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